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Grading the Game: Washington at Oregon

Washington fans entered this game feeling like their defense was finally one that could slow down the Oregon spread-option attack and give the Huskies a chance to break their string of futility vs. the Ducks. Oh how wrong we were...

Washington was unable to slow down Royce Freeman and the Ducks offense
Washington was unable to slow down Royce Freeman and the Ducks offense
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

At some point the Huskies will field a team talented enough, motivated enough and coached up enough to beat Oregon.  But it wasn't tonight - not even close.  Most Husky fans and even a few Duck fans scoffed at the 21-point spread for the game, but the betters had the last laugh as Oregon rolled in a game that was basically over before halftime.  Fans that were so encouraged by the play of the defense of late now have to wonder whether this crew is capable of slowing down the better spread-option teams in the conference, and are left to continue wondering what to do about the offense.  On to the grades...


Despite the attempts by color commentator Joey Harrington to sound unbiased by praising Cyler Miles at every opportunity, this was not a good game for him.  He wasn't terrible - he made a few good throws and was generally accurate, and showed improvement in his ability to feel and evade the rush and use his feet.  And he was not helped by a receiving corps that struggled to get open and to catch the ball, nor was he given any support via the run game.  The Oregon defense wasn't giving Miles much and he was taking the easy gains.  This is a formula that might have kept the game somewhat respectable, but only if he'd taken better care of the football.  Instead he sailed a deep crossing route high over the head of Jaydon Mickens and right to Erick Dargan, and then coughed up the football on a sack early in the 4th quarter, and those turnovers - especially the interception - killed any chances the Huskies might have had to try to crawl back into the game.  He also had multiple instances where he just couldn't pull the trigger on routes or threw too late because he didn't trust his read.  When he left after the fumble due to concussion symptoms, Troy Williams got his first chance to run the full offense.  The difference in arm strength was stark, and he showed good wheels on his scramble for a TD.  But he also was less accurate and didn't have any more success than Miles did in finding anything downfield in the passing game.  Still, he showed enough that you can be sure there will be calls from some segments of the fanbase to see more of him.  Grade:  C


One small silver lining out of this game was fan favorite Deontae Cooper.  Starter Dwayne Washington was quickly knocked out of the game with an injury to his ribs or chest and Lavon Coleman could not find any success against an Oregon run defense that prior to tonight had looked pedestrian.  In stepped Cooper, and while he had a limited number of snaps, he was the only RB to show any kind of effectiveness as he averaged 4.6 yards on his 5 carries and another got another 48 yards on 6 catches as he was utilized often as a safety valve in the passing game.  Coleman had a rough night as he just isn't showing the kind of power or tackle-breaking ability to compensate for his lack of speed.  Oregon had been allowing 174.8 ypg and 4.33 ypc coming into the game, but limited the Huskies to just 133 yards on 36 carries (3.7 ypc), with both figures greatly enhanced by the reverse from John Ross that went for a gain of 32.  Take away the WR runs from Ross, Mickens & Hall and the Huskies had 31 carries for just 80 yards - that isn't going to get it done.  While the OL continues to struggle opening holes, the RB's aren't showing any ability to create yards on their own.  We may see Cooper get a shot next week.  Grade:  D+


A rough game for this group too as they struggled to find separation from the Duck secondary and dropped a number of passes (DiAndre Campbell did not have a good night).  Mickens continues to be the go-to guy in the short passing game, but he missed an opportunity to really help his team out by making the catch on a difficult but catchable ball in the end zone in the 1st quater that would have given the lead back to Washington.  Kasen Williams finally got a target, but was unable to hang on to the ball.  Ross was unable to find much room in the passing game, but at least the coaches found ways to get him touches via the handoff and reverse.  I did like the flashes from Dante Pettis, and it was good to see Braden Lenius used as an end zone target even if he was unable to hang on when Troy Hill made a great play to knock the ball away.  The TE's continue to be MIA.  Grade:  D-


Here's your winners of the "most disappointing position group" for the halfway mark on the season.  In a game where controlling the line of scrimmage and taking advantage of a mediocre (at best) run defense was a key, they failed.  There was little running room to be had, especially when the game was still a contest.  Their failure early to establish any kind of run game - combined with the Ducks starting to pile up the points - led the coaching staff to give up on using the run as a significant component of the offense.  To their credit, they weren't terrible in pass protection, merely average.  They surrendered a couple of sacks and allowed Miles & Williams to get flushed from the pocket several more times, but they weren't totally overwhelmed.  Which, for a veteran group, is hardly a ringing endorsement.  Grade:  D


On the first possession for the Ducks, it looked like the Husky DL was going to be able to control the line of scrimmage and give the defense a chance to limit the Oregon offense.  Then the rest of the game happened.  It's difficult to be too hard on Danny Shelton or Hau'oli Kikaha - they both played reasonably well as Shelton was a handful up the middle with 2.5 TFL and Kikaha notched 2.5 sacks.  They brought a decent amount of pressure on Mariota and were able to keep him from busting any big runs.  But the line as a whole struggled greatly to control the line of scrimmage, and the Ducks were able to hit the second level far too often.  Gaps were not being controlled, and tackles were being missed.  Given the pace of play and the blowout status of the game, the 2nd string got a lot of play and both Elijah Qualls and JoJo Mathis flashed at times.  These will be valuable reps for this group as the Huskies will have to replace the entire starting DL next year.  Grade:  D+


When John Timu let an interception go through his hands on the 2nd play of the game it was a bad omen - it was one of the few poor passes Mariota made all night, and the Huskies missed a golden opportunity to start the game off with a big play.  The night wouldn't get any better for Timu and the rest of the LB crew as they were as much to blame as the DL with how the Duck running game dominated the Huskies.  Problems ranged from being out of position to not shedding blocks to simply getting run over.  They also continued to struggle in zone coverage and have been burned several times this season not picking up the RB out of the backfield.  Grade:  D


Budda Baker keeps showing encouraging improvement on the year, from his run support to his ability to fly to the ball.  His size puts him at disadvantage, but his speed and toughness make up for it.  He was one of the few bright spots on the night.  The rest of this group - like the majority of the team - had a rough go.  Much like the Cal game they were tasked with keeping plays in front of them, and while they didn't allow any deep passes, they had a harder time playing tight within their zones and allowed too many open looks for Duck receivers, and poor tackling helped Pharaoh Brown pick up 66 yards on his catch and run which enabled Oregon to drive 99 yards for their 3rd TD and a 21-6 lead that really changed the complexion of the game.  This was a tough match up against an elite QB and it was unrealistic to think this group could shut down the Duck passing game, but they didn't make it hard enough on him.  If the secondary is going to continue playing this much zone, they need to execute better and narrow those open windows.  Grade:  C-

Special Teams:

This was mostly a wash for the Huskies, though there were a couple plays that the coaches can use as teaching moments - the first was Ross making a poor decision late in the 2nd quarter to bring a deep kickoff out of the end zone, and predictably getting dropped well short of the 25 as he was tackled at the 11.  It's a common mistake by young players trying to do too much when a game is getting out of hand, and hopefully Chris Petersen and Jeff Choate are able to use that as an example for the team to make the right call on those situations.  The other was a poor onside kick attempt late that never gave the Huskies a chance to make the play and very nearly was run back for a TD.  Otherwise they were fine, though after the running into the kicker penalty Korey Durkee was kicking some of the ugliest yet effective punts I've ever seen.  He was either rattled or hurt, and it will be interesting to see how he looks this coming week.  Coverage was otherwise pretty good, and Cameron Van Winkle nailed his two field goals. It was also nice to see our PAT defense team ready for Oregon's predictable 2-point look after their first TD.  Grade:  C+


If Coach Petersen needed a measuring stick to see how far away his team is from competing at a championship level in the Pac-12, he got it.  He talked after the game about how his group still needs to work on the details and the difficulty for the players of adjusting to a new way of doing things, and the value in coaching continuity.  He will certainly get plenty of time here given his track record, but the measuring stick is going to remain Oregon - until the Huskies can break that streak and slay Goliath, Washington won't be "back".  Don James was able to beat both USC and UCLA in his first season which gave him credibility and served notice to the rest of the conference that this was a coach to be reckoned with.  Petersen will get there too, but the questions are going to linger as long as the streak is alive.

Pete Kwiatkowski couldn't find any answers during the game to slow down the Duck running game, and that failure to make Oregon one-dimensional kept the Husky pass rush from being able to be a bigger factor.  There were a lot of bodies shuffled in and out to combat fatigue and also to find a working formula, but to no avail.  He and his coaches will need to figure it out quickly, because the task doesn't get any easier this week with ASU coming to town, and Arizona will also be a huge challenge.  His predecessor Justin Wilcox struggled to defend the high level balanced spread-option attacks in this conference, so this isn't a new thing, but talk of Washington's defense being one of the tops in the conference should probably be put on hold.

Jonathan Smith has an even tougher task - with an OL group that is struggling to open holes, no RB showing an ability to create yards and a QB with some physical limitations, he's scrambling to find some formula for success on offense.  It's hard to know just how much blame to put on him for the lack of opportunities for Kasen or the tight ends, but clearly at least some falls on his shoulders.  He did manage to get more touches for Ross, but you'd love to see them take at least one deep shot with him each game.  I didn't see a lot of creativity on the offensive schemes, and I still wonder how much freedom Miles has on the zone-read plays.

You have to give a lot of credit to Oregon - not only are they very talented, but regardless of what fans might think of this rivalry, their players consistently put forth great effort and execution when they play Washington.  This was perhaps the best game Oregon has played this year, and Washington either didn't play their best game - which would be troubling - or they did, which would be even more troubling.  Grade:  C-